Your Food Environment Atlas is an online mapping tool that assembles statistics on food environment indicators and provides a spatial overview of a community's ability to access healthy food and its success in doing so. The atlas was developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, with support from federal agencies, academia, and the private sector. The atlas assembles food environment factors within three broad categories (food choices, health and well-being, community characteristics) and currently includes 90 indicators -- most at the county level. Users can create maps showing the variation in a single indicator across the United States, view all the county-level indicators for a selected county, or use the advance query tool to identify counties sharing the same degree of multiple indicators.

A quick look at New Haven County shows that in many respects, the region has a "food environment" profile similar to other sections of the urban Northeast Corridor.   Exposure to potentially unhealthy foods is high, like in the nation as a whole.   For an individual or family, the effects of the food environment will vary dramatically depending on the geographic area where they live and work, local policies in those areas, families' access to transportation, income available to purchase more expensive foods, individual behaviors and other social factors like education, free time and stress.

On the bright side, New Haven County has access to many farmers markets, local farm production, recreational areas, restaurants and supermarkets that can be leveraged as assets to building healthier communities. The atlas is designed to stimulate research on the determinants of food choices and diet quality and inform local policymakers and researchers, like those at the nationally-renowned Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, as they address diet and public health. A number of research projects underway in the New Haven area are seeking to collect and present this type of information at a more fine-grained level than the county as a whole.  

The Yale CARE initiative, a community participatory research project in six of New Haven's neighborhoods, is one example.  DataHaven will post these resources as soon as they become available.

Author: Mark Abraham, Executive Director, DataHaven, 2/26/10